posted in Parenting
Running is when I feel most like my true self. My feet pounding on the pavement, ponytail swishing to the rhythm of the cadence. My mind finally clear as I focus on breathing, while pumping my arms and my legs on auto pilot. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
Away from the responsibilities of motherhood. Away from impossible expectations society has for me. The endless days filled with dread.
For a long time, running was one of the only things that brought joy to the shadow of life that is postpartum depression and anxiety. If I’m being completely honest, running probably saved my life. Because most days, I was convinced my family would be better off without me.
I signed up for my first full marathon — a 26.2-mile commitment — just five months after my second child was born. Although I was in denial at the time, I was actually deep in the throes of (high functioning) PPD/anxiety. I was desperately grasping for something, anything that would make me feel like me again. I could fix this on my own, I told myself. (I couldn’t.) But here’s how running helped me through the darkest days of PPD:
It served as a road map when I felt utterly lost. At the time, I had I quit my full-time job outside of the home and began freelancing remotely. This huge shift in how I spent my days did nothing to help my PPD; in fact, it added to it. Printing out a training schedule and hanging it on my refrigerator “forced” me to get out of the house most days to log some miles at our fitness center. Clinging to that routine made my compromised emotional/mental state a tad more bearable.
It let me escape the pressures of parenthood and connect with my pre-kid self again. Running long distances is something that’s been part of my life since I was 17. Training for a marathon helped me remember who I was as a person and not just a mom.
It forced me to make myself a priority, even though I didn’t think I deserved it. When dealing with feelings of unbearable sadness, anxiety and anger, self care (running) wasn’t something I thought I deserved. Normally, being away from my kids made me feel even more guilty. But the fear of not being able to finish the race because I didn’t train properly overpowered these irrational thoughts and forced me to make the time to log my miles.
It boosted my mood in the short term. Running didn’t “cure” my PPD. But it made it a tiny bit more bearable because exercise = endorphins. And endorphins = temporary boost in mood.
I ended up experiencing PPD again (or still?) after my third child was born, as well. Again I signed up for a marathon — and again it was the crutch that helped drag me through every day. Eventually, it got to the point where I realized I needed help. I had tried everything to “beat” the continuous cycle of despair on my own. Obviously, I exercised regularly. I tried to sleep more. I asked for more help with the kids and around the house.
Still, I felt worthless, angry and anxious for no good reason. One day this past summer, I contacted my doctor’s office and set up an appointment. I walked out of that visit with a prescription for a little white pill that has made a world of difference in my life.
Now I can enjoy running without it also serving as my life line. I can enjoy my children. I can enjoy life. Everything doesn’t have to be so damn hard all of the time; I realize that now. I realize, too, that should have sought proper help a long time ago. Still, I’m so thankful I had something that kept me going. Because without running, I might not be here today.
Have you ever experienced PPD? What got you through each day?
Photos by Michelle Stein, iStock